Why does UV damage unprotected eyes?

Ultraviolet (UV) rays, a potential threat to public health, have been surging with the seasonal changes as experts advise people to take protective measures before stepping out into the sunlight.

Fishermen and motorists with improper protection are at peril of developing serious eye and skin diseases as they are fully exposed to the sun’s radiation and rays reflected back from the water and road surfaces.

Listed as a major source of global disease burden by the World Health Organisation (WHO), UV radiation reaches its peak in the summer months posing multiple threats to humans and animals who are under direct sunlight without proper protection.

UV radiation is at its peak at noon in the latter half of this month (May), June, July, and August in most of Western Europe and the Middle East. Unprotected human eyes and skin could suffer permanent damage or severe sunburn.

In one of its reports, WHO says UV-related illness and death are increasing worldwide. The organisation has reported an estimated 60,000 deaths a year in the world due to exposure to dangerous UV rays. Some 48,000 deaths are caused by malignant melanomas (skin cancer) and 12,000 by skin carcinomas.

UV rays are of three types, A, B, and C. UV-A rays can cause wrinkling and skin ageing along with contributing to melanoma. The UV-B cause sunburns and cataracts, an eye disease. They also have harmful effects on the human immune system and cause sunburn and melanoma. The UV-C rays are the most dangerous but they are luckily blocked by the ozone layer.

Some amount of UV rays filter through the ozone layer in the summer months and reaches the earth.

Maximum radiation

In the Mediterranean and Middle East, this radiation starts increasing in May, reaching its maximum levels in July and August. It goes down to the minimum level in the late Autumn and Winter months. People going on holiday to these areas need to be aware of the potential health hazards of this radiation especially during the bright sunny hours of the day.

People generally believe that sun radiation only causes sunburn and skin problems. They must be advised that eyes are the most vulnerable part of the human body and can suffer severe damage from UV unless they are adequately protected.

This radiation plays a contributory role in the development of ocular disorders such as cataract, pterygium, cancer of the skin around the eye, photokeratitis (a painful eye condition) and corneal degenerative changes, and may contribute to age-related macular degeneration.

Companies should be made to provide sunglasses to field workers as part of work safety measures.